Bioengineered Tomatoes

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In this recent NPR News article, Sasa Woodruff discusses how some seed companies are producing “blackish-purple tomato speckled with tiny pink dots” causing fears which might spread GMO among crops.

The Purple Galaxy Tomato splashed across the cover of this season’s Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog: a closeup of a blackish-purple tomato speckled with tiny pink dots. Next to it, sits a sliced open fruit, revealing deep fuchsia seeds and flesh.

NPR News Shots

This story is said to be a little murky, as it was thought that the first purple tomato was not produced through genetic engineering. But it turns out that the seeds may have originated from a genetically modified organism (GMO) called Purple Tomato, which was created using genes from a snapdragon flower by Norfolk Healthy Produce.

This mistake said to have caused a lot of trouble for the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, which reportedly sells rare and organic seeds, as the company pride itself avoiding genetically modified crops. They were reportedly shocked to discover that the Purple Galaxy Tomato seeds might not be what they thought.

David Francis, a professor of horticulture and crop science at the Ohio State University who specializes in tomato breeding and genetics, told NPR, “I had discussions with colleagues about it, and all of us just looked at it and said, well, that’s the GMO tomato.”

The seed company wrote in a statement: “After repeated testing, we are unable to conclusively establish that the Purple Galaxy does not contain any genes that have been genetically modified.”

We are told that laboratory testing determined that it is, in fact, bioengineered (GMO). This result supports the fact that the only reported way to produce a purple-fleshed tomato rich in anthocyanin antioxidants is with Norfolk’s patented technology.

– Nathan Pumplin,CEO of Norfolk Healthy Produce (source: NPR News)

NPR story adds: “But the next mystery is one that’s harder to answer: How could seeds get from a closed lab in the United Kingdom to a hobby gardener in France?”

I don’t think it’s a runaway train. You could easily argue that Baker Creek has it in their catalog because somebody misappropriated it and didn’t do their due diligence, Whether that was just incompetence or a mistake, who knows?

For the same reason that regular tomatoes don’t become weeds. They just don’t have the characteristics that allow them to compete well in a crowded environment.

Maybe it’s a collaborator in France had some and their technician took it, and then their technician gave it to a friend who knows, right?. Somebody took it and said, hey, I’m going to play with this.

– David Francis (source: NPR)

Baker Creek told NPR that the whole process of removing the seed from their collection was very painful, and they were concerned about its long term effects.

USDA evaluated their tomato (as it does for all approved GM crops) to make sure it was unlikely to start spreading like a weed. There is nothing in the purple tomato that would make it overtake other tomato populations,” says Pumplin.